THE TUNING FORK

A NEWSLETTER FOR THE ORTHODOX CHURCH SINGER

Issue #4 - November/December, 2001

"For God, born of a woman, has appeared to those who sit in darkness and shadow"

Stichera of Litya, Nativity Vigil

The Tuning Fork wishes you and your family a happy, healthy and blessed Christmas and New Year. We also hope the season of the Nativity of Christ encourages us to pray and sing for the unity of all and for peace on earth

 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

Antiphon. 1) A short verse from the scriptures, especially the psalms, sung or recited in the liturgy and other church services. 2) Any verse or hymn sung or recited by one part of the choir or chanters in response to another part.

Epiphany.
(Gr. Theophania; Sl. Bogoyavleniye). Also known as Theophany, it is the feast commemorating the baptism of Christ and the ''manifestation'' of God in the Holy Trinity. (In the Western church Epiphany has come to symbolize the coming of the Magi to the infant Jesus.)

Compline. (Gr. Apodeipnon; Sl. Velikoye Povecheriye). A worship service performed after dusk. It is often combined with Matins, to form an all-night vigil. There is a Great Compline and its abridgement, known as Little Compline. We celebrate a Vigil consisting of Compline and Matins on the eves of Christmas and Theophany

Canon. 1) Short hymns consisting of nine odes, sung at the service of Matins. 2) The special service known as the Great Canon sung on the evening of the Wednesday of the fifth week of the Great Lent.

FEATURE ARTICLE

The following was originally written to the Psalm e-list (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/orthodoxpsalm) but with Paula’s permission we thought we’d reprint it here. It is interesting to read about the experience of a non-native English speaker singing in an English language choir and what she’s learned from it.

   I have been singing in the Slavonic choir for many years, but decided to try the English choir because of the opportunities to learn, for the challenge and because there was a need. Coming from Finland and with my tongue more inclined to Slavonic singing, I have to say it is not easy to sing liturgical texts in English. It is a challenge for me because it is a language with many words that don't fit to my mouth. But its beauty may lie in its challenge. Singing in English beautifully and prayerfully seems to require that you begin to think in a different way. The easiest thing is to sing like a robot.

   As we know, in our services, words supersede music, while music serves to bring out the important words. And singing should be prayerful, thoughtful meaning that singers think of and understand not only the words in their native language, but what the words are saying. If we sing like a robot, we make sure nobody understands anything and everyone gets bored.

   I have learnt in our choir that it helps when you think of what you are saying in song and you "go towards" that word in a verse. Choir directors talk about "sweeping" through verses, but sometimes we hold on to the tension of a particular word and then pick up the pace again. I have learnt that we need to put the stress on the right syllables and to pronounce the vowels and consonants purely or whatever is the correct adjective to capture all treasures of English pronunciation.

   Look up the correct pronunciation in the dictionary if you don't know, because Americans have so many ways of pronunciation of English. As a European, it is easy for me to pronounce vowels purely while some Americans naturally tend to turn the vowels around and make them joined diphthongs (‘a’ is not ‘a’ but ‘ae’, etc.). Consonants offer a challenge to everyone. Yet they may be the critical key to pave the way for pronunciation of pure consonants.

   We often rush through the verses and leave out the endings, especially the last consonants of words. As someone said, singing is one gradation of reading. I have learned that we need to think that we are in fact reading when we sing but just in different pitches and parts. After listening to our tapes, I have also noticed that one needs to exaggerate the singing of words with correct stresses a bit more than when normally reading. If you just "read" in singing, it becomes monotonous and unexpressive. You need to put more life, energy and tension into singing texts to make it sound like interesting reading.

   Some time ago our choir directors played a record of a male/boy choir from Oxford, and it had applied the above principles to every single word and verse. The choir repeated the same melodic formula many times but because the text was different and they applied the above principles to every word, the effect was really powerful. Our choir directors type the stichera, troparions, and kontakia for every service for the choir. They divide the verses so that they would not be too long and bold the syllables (words) we need to stress and italicize some other syllables to indicate a change in the melody. Verses should not be too long either because then the choir may easily switch into a robotic mode. Marking texts with bolds and italics is really helpful because it triggers the choir to think in a different way about singing and helps to keep everyone together, as one voice. Our choir members were also converts to the Faith and had to learn all the tones from zero, so marking texts helps us to remember the tones.

   Finally, it takes patience and constant reminding to teach a choir to chant in the above manner. But I have experienced that it is possible, and eventually the choir begins to independently think of and perform singing with correct stresses, sweeps, etc. I wanted to write to you not because I am an expert of any sort but because I find that I have learned in the English choir something really valuable that works that I can probably apply to singing in any language, even to my own in which I have not yet sung.

In Christ's love, Paula Genis

Choir Member (St. John the Baptist, Washington DC)

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

We welcome your questions about singing and church music.

Q: How can I find the pitches to give the choir when I only have a tuning fork and relatively little musical knowledge?

A: Well, it can be done, since most of our liturgical music is composed within a limited number of starting pitch patterns. If, for example, you have a "C" tuning fork, you have "Do" of the "Do-la-fa" pattern. To give other pitches you need to be able to relate the pitch you want to give to the "Do" of the tuning fork. You can simply use your familiarity with the "Do-re-mi" scale to go from Do to another note. But the bigger part of the pitch-giving job is to be able to give the pitches smoothly and quickly. To do that, it’s best to have the "ear training" segment of music theory, which you can obtain on-line, from some self-help books, and from local community colleges. In future issues of The Tuning Fork, we’ll try to provide some useful ear training exercises.

Q: What is "perfect pitch"?

A: "Perfect Pitch" is the rare ability, considered by some to be genetic, to identify specific pitches without an external reference point. My sister has perfect pitch, and when we were children, I used to "test" her by playing a note on the piano when she couldn’t see my hands. She could name the note on the first try. Today, when she sings with a choir that goes flat, my sister has to transpose the music in her mind to the lower key. Recent scientific investigations have questioned whether "Perfect Pitch" is just a highly developed sense of "Relative Pitch," a much more common ability. With "relative pitch" a person can identify a note, given a "reference point." Many/most Orthodox musicians develop relative pitch from their years of singing a capella.

THE VOCAL SURVIVAL GUIDE

Some Helpful Hints for Choral Singers

     

  1. Warm up your voice – the single most important thing you can do before you sing.
  2. Think about your posture – you can’t sing correctly if you are slouching.
  3. Breathe – it seems obvious, but many singers do not breathe until they are gasping at the end of a line. One of the good things about singing in a choir is that you can take a breath when you need it. Just make sure you’re not taking your breath at the same time as everyone else. But by all means, breathe as much and as often as you need to support the voice properly. Many pitch problems can be solved by just breathing a bit more often.
  4. Sing the right parts – Many of our choirs are very small and often people are asked to fill in with parts that are not their own. Try to avoid singing a part that is not in your range too often, it can be damaging to your vocal cords.
  5. Don’t over sing – a good rule of thumb is if you cannot hear the other parts, you are singing too loudly.
  6. Prepare your music ahead of time – making sure you know your part well can allow you the luxury of concentrating on things like dynamics and pronunciation.
  7. Avoid talking during a rehearsal – talking and singing are like oil and water. They just don’t mix. Once you are warmed up, try not to talk because you are using your vocal chords in a different manner, which will tire you voice rapidly.
  8. Make sure you take care of yourself – if you know you will be singing the next day, try to get enough rest the night before. Make sure you drink a lot of fluids to reduce and loosen phlegm. Try not to consume an excessive amount of alcohol and, as if it wasn’t obvious, don’t smoke. Try to avoid singing when you have a cold or sore throat. It’s better to miss a rehearsal than to damage your vocal cords and spread germs to your fellow singers.

Web site – I was once asked how to find a good voice teacher so I did a search on the internet and came up with this sight. While it may be a step in the right direction in locating a teacher, we can not guarantee that they'll be any good. Finding a teacher is like shopping for clothing, you just have to keep trying them until you find one that's a good fit for you. Here's the site: www.voiceteachers.com

Web Site: For locating a Troparion or Kontakion for a specific saint or day: http://users.netmatters.co.uk/davidbryant/C/TropKon/TP.htm

Here are some useful books for learning music rudiments:

Concert: The Spirit of Orthodoxy Choir will be performing a benefit concert on January 20, 2001 at the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection, 59 East 2nd Street, New York, NY 10003. For information on tickets, please telephone Doreen Bartholomew at 516-437-5760 or e-mail The Tuning Fork. The concert is to benefit the families of the World Trade Center attack.

 

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